LONDON, Sept. 28, 1938 (UP) - Adolf Hitler called a four-power conference on the Czechoslovak crisis today, at almost exactly the hour which he had set for marching his army into Sudetenland.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain informed the British House of Commons that Hitler had set 2 p.m. today for the march, but agreed to postpone it for 24 hours pending a talk by himself, Chamberlain, Premier Benito Mussolini of Italy and Premier Edouard Daladier of France tomorrow afternoon at Munich.
Hitler's ultimatum that Czechoslovakia must yield the Sudetenland to Germany by Saturday was not mentioned in the four-power invitation, but it was believed in Berlin that he would accept "a token withdrawal" of Czech troops from Sudetenland.
During the breathing spell thus granted, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Daladier will fly to Munich to talk with Hitler on new plans for averting war in Europe.
The margin by which an immediate explosion was averted was narrow.
The dramatic chain of events which averted an immediate war, began at the White House in Washington shortly before 10 o'clock last night.
It was the early hours of the morning in Europe.
President Roosevelt's suggestion for a European conference, cabled to Hitler, stirred the German chancellery into quick action.
The suggestion went to London. From there it sped to Paris and Rome.
For the first time, Mussolini became directly involved in the negotiations hitherto conducted by Britain alone.
Chamberlain urged Mussoline to use his influence with Hitler. Il Duce did so.
Hitler promptly issued the invitation for the conference. Acceptance by all concerned was almost immediate.
Chamberlain was making his speech in the House of Commons, revealing that the four-power proposal had been made. He did not know it had been accepted.
Hitler's invitation arrived at the last moment, during his closing remarks.
Toward the end of Chamberlain's speech a message was handed to Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, who was in the gallery. Halifax read the message, showed it to Lord Baldwin, jumped up and departed.
In a moment he appeared on the floor of the chamber and went to the government bench. The message with its momentous portent was passed from hand to hand. The government members stirred with excitement.
Just as Chamberlain neared the end of the speech, the message was handed to him. He immediately announced it the House.
A scene seldom matched in Commons ensued. Members leaped to their feet, cheered and waved their papers.
Chamberlain had entered the House of Commons to tell the members of the situation to date.
He knew what a German march into Czechoslovakia would mean, for as he revealed in his speech, Hitler told him in plain words at their first Berchtesgaden conference that Germany would risk a war rather than defer a solution of his demands on Czechoslovakia.
The scene in Commons was intensely dramatic.
When Chamberlain opened his speech with the remark, "Today we face a situation unparalleled since 1914" - the entire house rose and cheered.
Until the prime minister made his announcement of the 24-hour "reprieve," the House had received the speech with growing grimness, interrupted by frequent loud, approving cheers as Chamberlain made various points.
Not since the World War has there been such tense anxiety in Commons which met in a war-like atmosphere while the sand-bagging of the war office and parliament proceeded outside.
The house was packed, breathless. Chamberlain received an unprecedented ovation when he entered, wearing a short black coat, striped trousers and butterfly collar.
He started out calm and self-possessed, leaned on his dispatch box at times, speaking deliberately. Often he straightened up, hands on hips.
The House listened intensely, leaning forward on the benches. The speech was punctuated frequently by volleys of "Hear, hear." When Chamberlain said Hitler had told him "rather than wait, he was prepared to risk a world war," a low, deep rumble swept the House.
The listeners laughed ironically when Chamberlain said Hitler had promised that Sudetenland was his last territorial ambition in Europe and again when the prime minister said Hitler mentioned "the awkward question of colonies."
When Chamberlain finished, Clement R. Attlee, Labor Party leader, and Sir Archibald Sinclair, leader of the opposition Liberals, welcomed his final announcement.
"Everyone wishes to give Mr. Chamberlain every opportunity to follow up the new move," Attlee said. "When the House is reassembled the war clouds may be lifted."
The House cheered for several minutes and then adjourned, until Monday.
Chamberlain left for Downing street and began consulting his ministers on plans for the Munich meeting.
There around the conference table will sit the two Nazi-Fascist dictators and the leaders of the two great European democracies.
For the first time, Mussolini will be involved in direct negotiations on the Sudeten dispute, as will Daladier of France.
Mussolini has backed Hitler, and intimated that if a general war breaks out, the two totalitarian countries will fight "as one nation."
With all four countries represented by their top men the conference will be in a position to make decision without loss of time.
The British-French efforts, it was understood here, will be directed primarily toward persuading Hitler to extend further his 24-hour delay in mobilizing his fighting forces.
They may also ask for an extension of his Oct. 1 deadline.
It was understood Mussolini will be willing to join France and Britain in furnishing and international army to occupy the Sudetenland pending Czech evacuation.
The stumbling block may come in Hitler's insistence on immediate evacuation and the determined refusal of Czechoslovakia. The way out may be found in the suggestion from Berlin that a partial or "token" withdrawal of Czech troops may be accepted, along with a British-French guarantee that Czechoslovakia would carry out the agreed terms to the letter.
The conference will attempt a compromise on the French-British plans at Godesberg, which Hitler rejected. It then will be up to Britain and France to persuade Czechoslovakia to agree.
Earlier today Hitler in a letter to Prime Minister Chamberlain summarily rejected Czechoslovak arguments against his ultimatum for surrender of the Sudeten area.
Replying to a peace appeal which Chamberlain sent to him, Hitler replied, in discussing the Czechoslovak case:
"I openly declare that I cannot bring myself to understand these arguments or even to admit that they can be regarded as seriously put."
Hitler, in his letter, said that his demand for immediate occupation of the Sudeten area by German troops "represents no more than a security measure to guarantee a quick and smooth final settlement." He added:
"This security measure is indispensable."
Rejecting all Czechoslovak claims, Hitler said:
"The government of Prague simply passes over the fact that actual arrangements for the final settlement of the Sudeten problem in accordance with my proposals will be made dependent nor on a unilateral German decision or German measures of force but rather, on one hand, on a free vote under no outside influence, and on the other hand to a very wide degree on German-Czechoslovak agreement on matters of details to be reached subsequently."
"I clearly indicated that I regret the idea of any attack on Czech territory and under the condition which I laid down, I am ready to give a formal guaranty for the remainder of Czechoslovakia," Hitler's letter said.
He declared that if the German government renounced its demand for security measures and "left the whole future treatment of problem simply to normal negotiations with Czechoslovakia, the present unbearable conditions in Sudeten German territories would continue to exist for a period the length of which cannot be foreseen."
"We must assume that the government at Prague is only using my proposal for occupation by German troops in order, by distorting the meaning and object of my proposal, to mobilize those forces of other countries, particularly England and France, from which they hope to receive unreserved support for their aim and thus achieve the possibility of general warlike conflagration," Hitler's letter continued.
"I must leave it to your judgment whether in view of these facts you consider you should continue your effort...to spoil such maneuvers and bring the government at Prague to reason at the very last hour."